September 13, 2012

We need more widows and orphans as shareholders of our banks

Sir, the capital of my homeland (Caracas, Venezuela), used to, for over a hundred years, have its electricity needs well serviced by a private company run by electrical engineers, and its shareholders were mostly widows and orphans. But then came the financial engineers and took it over, and leveraged it to the tilt, and the consumers were not longer its prime focus of interest, the speculative shareholders were. How we wish we could have the old company back. In this particular case that seems impossible because it has since then been taken over by the Petrostate. 

I mention this because John Gapper, though mentioning “the targets for returns on equity” leaves aside the issue that different shareholders might have different targets, “The financial incentives to behave badly will endure” September 13. For instance, if capital requirements for banks were substantially increased, that would of course diminish the returns on bank equity, but that could also help to make banks safer investments, and with that attract the widows and orphans who could be happy with lower but safer returns. 

As a client of any utility, whether electricity or banking, I would like its shareholders to be widows and orphans, and so should the regulators.